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The Controversy of Creating a Vocal Range Chart

November 17, 2022

The Controversy of Creating a Vocal Range Chart

There are many singing methodologies out there, and each teacher has their own way of teaching. 

Some methods use a vocal range chart, while others forego this tool. So, what’s the controversy? 

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using a vocal range chart in order to help you make a decision for your own singing. 

What Are the 5 Voice Ranges?

A vocal range chart highest to lowest ranking will generally include these five voice ranges:

  • Soprano
  • Mezzo-Soprano
  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Bass. 

Soprano is the highest voice range, while Bass is the lowest. Mezzo-Soprano and Alto are in the middle. 

Each range has a different set of notes that it can sing comfortably. A vocal range chart will show you where your voice falls within these five ranges. The easiest way to find your range is to consult a trained vocal coach or take an online vocal test. 

Once you know your range, you can begin working on expanding it by practicing different exercises designed to target your specific range. With time and dedication, you can develop a greater vocal range and unlock your hidden singing potential. Here are a few more benefits of taking singing lessons: 

What is a Typical Voice Range?

Most people’s speaking voices fall within a relatively limited range of pitches, usually between about 85 and 255 Hz for men and between 165 and 510 Hz for women. 

The upper and lower limits of a person’s vocal range are determined by the tension of the vocal cords and the size, shape, and position of the surrounding body cavities. 

The average adult male speaking voice falls within a range of 85-255 Hz, while the average adult female speaking voice falls within a 165-510 Hz range. However, there is considerable variation from person to person. 

Some individuals have much higher or lower pitch ranges than average, and some may possess unique or unusual vocal characteristics that set their voices apart from the majority. In general, though, most people’s speaking voices fall within a relatively limited range of pitches.

What Are the Benefits of a Vocal Range Chart Singers Should Know?

Vocal range charts are an excellent tool for helping singers understand where their voice sits within their range. This can be helpful in terms of planning repertoire and selecting songs that are appropriate for your skill level. 

In addition, seeing your progress over time can be encouraging and motivating; it’s gratifying to see your range increase as you continue to work on your craft. 

Furthermore, vocal range charts can help teachers identify problem areas that need to be addressed in their students’ technique

For example, if a singer is having difficulty hitting a certain note or singing in a certain register, the teacher can take a look at the chart and determine what might be causing the issue. Once the problem is identified, the teacher can then work with the student to correct it. 

Where to Find a Male Vocal Range Chart

There are a few different places you can find a male vocal range chart. One option is to search for one online. 

A quick Google search will turn up a number of results, so you can easily find a chart that suits your needs. 

Another option is to purchase a vocal training book or program that includes a range chart. This is a great option if you’re serious about improving your singing ability, as it will give you access to other resources in addition to the range chart. 

Finally, you can ask your choir director or voice teacher for a copy of their range chart. This is the best option if you want to be sure you’re using an accurate and up-to-date chart. No matter where you get your range chart, studying it carefully will help you to develop your vocal skills and improve your overall singing ability.

Where to Find a Female Vocal Range Chart

Again, there are a few different places you can find a female vocal range chart. One option is to search for one online. If you do a simple Google search, you will find several options. 

Another option is to purchase a vocal range chart book. These books typically contain a variety of charts, including ones for female vocalists. 

Finally, you can always ask your singing teacher for a copy of their favorite chart. No matter where you get your chart, it is important to make sure that it is accurate and up-to-date. The last thing you want is to base your practice on an outdated or incorrect chart!

Vocal Ranges Chart – The Cons

As a composer, I always keep an orchestration textbook on hand to check the range of instruments I’m writing for. Many of these books contain standard range charts for instruments. These tell you the highest and lowest notes those instruments can play. It would be incredibly useful if we had some kind of standardized vocal range chart to reference when we want to write a new piece of music for singers.

However, writing music for singers is much more complicated and nuanced than most people realize. A simple chart outlining the highest and lowest notes a voice type can sing might not give us a complete picture of that singer’s capabilities. It might only serve as a general guideline rather than a hard and fast indicator of the abilities of sopranos, mezzos, tenors, and basses.

There are several factors that make the delineation of vocal range especially challenging to create for singers, compared to other instruments. As both a singer and composer myself, I have a unique perspective from which to discuss a few of these factors.

Every Voice is Unique

On the other hand, some people argue that vocal range charts are too restrictive and limiting. They believe that such charts pigeonhole singers into thinking that they can only sing certain types of songs. This belief is particularly prevalent among musical theater singers, who often feel pressure to conform to a very specific vocal type. 

In addition, some people find that vocal range charts are inaccurate and do not reflect reality. Everyone’s voice is unique, and so trying to fit everyone into predetermined categories can be difficult—if not impossible. 

The technical term for classifying voices in classical singing is called fach. We use the fach system to break voices down into specific categories by range, tone color, and capabilities within different vocal registers. This system is most useful for determining what operatic roles a singer might be capable of performing. However, the system has limits, and singers do occasionally perform music not commonly done by other singers of the same vocal fach.

This is because, as singers, our instruments are our bodies, and no two bodies are exactly alike. When your instrument is truly a design with no single exact replica in the world, it’s no wonder not all voices fit squarely inside the box of each of these classifications. If one were to attempt to create a vocal range chart, it might serve as no more than a frame of reference. Some singers would be able to sing well outside of those guidelines, and others not being able to sing the full range of notes within them. 

Not all notes within a singer’s range are comfortable to sing in the context of music.

When I take my voice students through vocalizing exercises, I’ll have them run through the entirety of their range. Say I have a soprano who can comfortably vocalize up to a high C. That doesn’t mean I will assign them a piece of music that has a high C in it. If a note is at the extreme end of a singer’s range, that may not be a note that’s totally comfortable for them to access within the context of a piece of music.

Another important thing to consider is that even if a note is comfortably accessible within a singer’s range, it might not mean they can sing that note over and over for an extended period of time.

A soprano might be able to sing a high C at the dramatic climax of a piece of music, but that doesn’t mean their voice will sustain them to sing twenty high C’s within a single piece, or even in a single evening.

This shows us that a simple chart showing the highest and lowest notes within a singer’s range might be an incomplete picture of their capabilities. These are things that are important for composers to take into account when they write music for voice. 

When writing for vocal ensembles, range may vary drastically as well.

Even in a situation where you are writing for groups of singers, a standard vocal range chart may be misleading. One could make the argument that situations involving large groups or ensembles of singers could result in some kind of average that would make a vocal range chart more applicable. That’s true.

However, those charts could vary significantly based on a number of factors, such as the age and level of musicianship of the members of the ensemble. A childrens’ choir will be working within very different vocal ranges than an adult community choir, or a professional symphonic choir.

The best way to truly learn about vocal range is to write music for singers.

Composers have been writing music with specific singers in mind for hundreds of years. Mozart, for example, often wrote operas knowing which singer would premier each role. Those singers may have fit within a specific category on the fach system, but, just as described above, they may have had capabilities that defied categorization. Mozart created vocal lines that played to the strengths of those singers.

This practice of writing vocal music with specific singers in mind continues into today.

Present-day composers often work closely with singers during the process of creating new works, making sure every note of text they set musically has the intended dramatic effect based on where it sits in the singers’ voice. The more you get to know each singer’s voice, the more you will gain an understanding for the range and strengths of each voice type. 

Considering even just a few of the factors that go into writing music for singers, one can see how a vocal range chart might be a bit of a controversial thing, and might only serve as a general guideline rather than a hard and fast fact about the capabilities of each voice type. The best way to grow accustomed to the ranges of singers is to write music for them, and ask them lots of questions about their voices.

Learn more than just the highest and lowest notes they can sing. Learn about the different parts of their range, where they can create the most vocal warmth, where they have the most agility, how they can handle different dynamics in different parts of their range, what notes feel the best and worst for them to sing, what kind of quality their voice takes on in different areas of their range, and what happens to their sound at the extreme low and extreme high ends of their range.

Look at other pieces of music they sing that they feel best show off their strengths. Look at repertoire written for people with similar voice types, and take note of what kind of writing seems to best suit that voice. These are all ways to gain a better understanding of vocal range, far more than a standardized vocal range chart could provide. 

Final Thoughts

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether or not you should use a vocal range chart. It ultimately depends on what works best for you as a singer and what makes you feel most comfortable. 

If you find that such charts are helpful in terms of planning repertoire and tracking your progress, then by all means, use one! However, if you feel like they’re too restrictive or limiting, then don’t hesitate to ditch them altogether. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

If you’re not sure whether you should be using a vocal range chart, start a conversation with your singing instructor. They’ll be able to give you the best advice on how to proceed so you can crush your singing goals!

Praised for her “rich dramatics” (The Boston Globe), Pamela Stein Lynde is a versatile singer, composer, and music educator. As a singer, Pamela has built a career working with contemporary composers of all levels, from students to internationally recognized artists. She has performed with Beth Morrison Projects, American Opera Projects, Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Rhymes With Opera, Helix New Music Ensemble, Nouveau Classical Project, Saratoga Fine Arts Festival, Yamaha Concert Artists series, New Music New Haven, and Unruly Sounds Festival. She appears as a vocalist on minimalist composer Alexander Turnquist’s album Flying Fantasy, released on Western Vinyl. She was a 2017-2019 composer fellow with American Opera Projects Composers & the Voice Workshop. Her opera-in-progress, The Interaction Effect, has been workshopped and performed by Manhattan School of Music. Her music has been broadcast to audiences nation-wide on American Public Media’s Performance Today, and has been featured on festivals across the country.

Pamela Stein Lynde

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